Mandolins are probably not your first choice of instrument if you want something cheap. With most mandolins averaging about $300 and higher finding, an affordable model seems impossible. And yes, there are $200 models that are supposedly budget-friendly but what if you need something under $100? Well… the choice is not as vast among mandolins under $100 as with ukuleles and guitars but there are still a couple of good cheap ones that I would recommend to someone who cannot pay hundreds and hundreds but at the same time does not want to end up with a toy rather than an instrument. One of those mandolins is Rogue RM-100A.
The RM-100A is an A-style mandolin or “teardrop” mandolin. This style is often a go-to for beginners and people who do not want to spend as much because A-shaped ones are usually much cheaper than F-style. Well, you might ask then whether the F-style is a superior type and I will just shrug and say “depends”. Just like with most things, there is no clear-cut answer to which one is better.
It all depends on personal preference. Me? I prefer A-style. I learned with an A-style, my first three mandolins were A-style and while I will not profess that it is the only right choice, I would say it is a good one for beginners. This specific model features a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard that is very well-polished and easy to play. The F-hole and a high-gloss finish make this pretty cheap instrument look more elegant and pricey. I won’t lie, this would not be my number one choice if I had a bit of freedom with a budget but for an instrument that usually comes for under $60 the RM-100A does a pretty damn good job.
Just like with tonewood and construction, Rogue chose simple and basic hardware that might not do magic but still gets the job done. With adjustable compensated rosewood bridge and chrome tuning machines, this instrument lends itself to be a pretty easy one to handle and maintain. The tuners hold the strings pretty well. While you might have to tune a couple more times than usual at the beginning the more you play the more settled in the strings will be. Speaking of strings, change them. Change the damn strings right away because they just ruin the sound and playability. Usually, I recommend changing strings on cheaper models because small details do make a good difference and might alleviate a mediocre-sounding instrument to a higher level. In this case that is twice as true. You do have some setting up to do and I understand that if you are a beginner you might be intimidated by this process. Honestly, the process is not as complicated as it is long (for beginners). If you still don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself most custom shops will do it for you for a small fee.
Rogue RM-100A Sound
I’ll just come out and say it straight away, I did not expect anything from this mandolin sound-wise. And while my low expectations might have made my fascination by the sound of this instrument a bit over the top, I still, objectively, can say that for the price you are paying and for the instrument that is targeted towards beginners the RM-100A has a well-rounded tone and nice volume.
I doubt there are a lot of other mandolins at this price range that offers as much as the RM-100A. This A-style mandolin might not be a pick for the best mandolins of all time but it also does not cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. With a pretty solid construction, easy-to-maintain hardware and bright tone with nice volume this Rogue model will be a great starter instrument for someone with no experience. It will also fit players who travel around or want to take it while hiking.
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